Glen Smith’s way with words have made him a highly successful healthcare intermediary. And aside from the patter, his effervescent personality and commitment to customer service have set his company off to a flying start.
Smith is managing director of Healthcare Partners, a firm based in Bushey, Hertfordshire which was set up 18 months ago.
Business has grown fast, and this is down to a man who does not fit into the normal grey faced and suited insurance mould. Smith is a bullish extrovert who likes a bit of industry gossip. He is an extrovert who loves to sell, but at the same time is determined provide the highest standards of care.
Like so many others in the insurance industry, broking found him rather than the other way round. One of the great loves of his life is skiing and he ran his own company, importing ski equipment and running a shop. This proved a dual-edged sword. Smith relished the travel and sales side of the job, but the market was volatile and his business folded.
He switched to health insurance, settling for a job with BUPA. Soon he was fronting sales for the insurer’s St Albans’ office. He enjoyed health insurance, building a rapport with intermediaries and IFAs, and finding he had a talent for making the complexities of the health market simple.
He quickly built up a network of clients throughout the UK, and while he specialises in individual business, is also growing his corporate account. He now has over 1,000 individual clients and advises on health cover for around 100 companies. He says he receives around five serious leads a day by phone, and employs two part time staff to help him with administration.
He advertises sparingly, and most business, he says, has come through recommendation. One valuable source has been from the Institute of Chartered Accountants for which he is a recommended provider.
Smith has agencies with most PMI providers. These include BUPA, OHRA Cornhill, Prime Health and BCWA among others. He has strong views on the merits and pitfalls of each.
While, for example, he might recommend Prime Health for a small company scheme, he points out he is not a fan of the no claims discount offered by the insurer. Smith says customers often do not realise this can lead to a hike in rates if a claim is made.
And while he feels he has sufficient agencies to provide a full service, he says he was put out when PPP refused him an agency, on the grounds of him not being IBRC registered. But since he already has an agency with Guardian, Smith thinks the situation may change.
Since then he has registered with the Independent Intermediaries Association headed by Tony Howe. “I am a founding member and will also look at becoming regulated if required,” he says.
More important, Smith believes strongly that clients almost always benefit from independent advice.
He points out that product comparisons can be misleading, and that people should beware of buying on the conclusions of surveys in the quality press. “They are often just not fair comparisons,” he says, “a BUPA policy for example, may appear the most expensive, but could offer real value as it may include treatment at the most expensive London hospitals the customer wants.”
Service – or the lack of it – is a particular Smith bugbear. “It annoys me when I never hear from a company and am then sent corporate Christmas cards. I want to know how a company can help me and what their opening hours are over the holiday. To me, service is everything.”
Healthcare Partners has only succeeded, says Smith, because it is so focused on service. This, he claims, has resulted in major coups such as winning a major corporate account from one of the national brokers.
“Some of the large firms of brokers believe only they can handle big group business, but clients can see through pomposity- they only want to deal with someone they trust and will get them the best possible deal,” he says.
He also believes there is some arrogance in the healthcare industry as a whole. “The press appears to be full of the opinions of a very limited number of PMI ,experts’. Their views can be predictable and they can have long-standing prejudices to certain insurers and their products. I get tired about the same people banging on about things.”
Sales technique is key to the success of any business and Smith has this is abundance. But he points out that effective presentation skills can be learnt, and that a hit and miss campaign not bring in the money. “You need to follow the right sales formula at presentations and you need to put in a substantial volume of calls but also make sure you are targeting people who will want to buy.” Apart from PMI; Healthcare Partners also sells critical illness. Smith believes this product is more important than medical insurance. “People don’t see beyond the luxury private room in their preferred hospital,” he says, “but if you get over a critical illness your life can be totally changed and it’s then a cash payment really matters.”
Smith works from home in a large three-storey house, and has converted the top floor into his office. He employs two part-time staff who deal with administration and customer queries and has recently taken on a direct salesman.
Despite the current static state of the PMI market, Smith is optimistic about the future. But he sees this very much of this own making as he has little faith in the ability of the present Government to encourage individuals to buy health cover. He was also opposed to the removal of tax relief for the over 65s, describing this as `a cruel move.’
Working from home is not the idyll it sounds. Smith works to a punishing schedule – typically 8.30 am to 8.30 pm and often spends his week-ends at his desk. He is frequently out visiting clients, although points out he would not do an evening presentation to a client in their home. “It just devalues things,” he points out. With expansion planned, he is considering moving taking office space, but has no plans to move to central London.
When not working, he enjoys country life, although off duty he relaxes by playing hard. He owns a jeep and two motorbikes – a Honda Blackbird and a Harley Davidson – which are his pride and joy.
Apart from two wheels he enjoys the company of two four-legged friends. Sophie and Bruno are Italiano Spinona dogs, a pair of shaggy hounds, of which there are only 1,800 in the UK.
Whether walking the dogs or roaring down country lanes on his bike, Smith is not one to sit still. He has big plans for his business. He says he has been approached by venture capitalists interested in investing in Healthcare Partners. He says it is possible he would look at buying out other brokers and consider setting up a telesales operation. But no matter what expansion, he insists both he and his business will retain their individuality. “I don’t want to be a tied agency, I don’t want to be another company man and you won’t see me driving round in a Mondeo,” he says with passion.